Black Sunday

It was 79 years ago today that the largest of the dust storms of the 1930s swept the western plains (April 14, 1935).


Cyclic winds rolled up two miles high, stretched out a hundred miles and moved faster than 50 miles an hour. These storms destroyed vast areas of the Great Plains farmland. The methods of fighting the dust were as many and varied as were the means of finding a way to get something to eat and wear. Every possible crack was plugged, sheets were placed over windows and blankets were hung behind doors. Often the places were so tightly plugged against the dust (which still managed to get in) that the houses became extremely hot and stuffy.

Quotation from the Cimmaron Heritage Center, Boise City, Oklahoma. Boise City is in the Oklahoma panhandle near Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Texas.

Those on the road had to try to beat the storm home. Some, like Ed and Ada Phillips of Boise City, and their six-year-old daughter, had to stop on their way to seek shelter in an abandoned adobe hut. There they joined ten other people already huddled in the two-room ruin, sitting for four hours in the dark, fearing that they would be smothered. Cattle dealer Raymond Ellsaesser tells how he almost lost his wife when her car was shorted out by electricity and she decided to walk the three-quarters of a mile home. As her daughter ran ahead to get help, Ellsaesser’s wife wandered off the road in the blinding dust. The moving headlights of her husband’s truck, visible as he frantically drove back and forth along the road, eventually led her back

The American Experience

. . . And the old house was just a-vibratin’ like it was gonna blow away. And I started tryin’ to see my hand. And I kept bringin’ my hand up closer and closer and closer and closer and closer and I finally touched the end of my nose and I still couldn’t see my hand. That’s how black it was. And we burned kerosene lamps and Dad lit an old kerosene lamp, set it on the kitchen table and it was just across the room from me, about — about 14 feet. And I could just barely see that lamp flame across the room. That’s how dark it was and it was six o’clock in the afternoon. It was the 14th of April, 1935. The sun was still up, but it was totally black and that was blackest, worst dust storm, sand storm we had durin’ the whole time.

A lot of people died. A lot of children, especially, died of dust pneumonia. They’d take little kids and cover ’em with sheets and sprinkle water on the sheets to filter the dust out. . . .

Melt White, The American Experience

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan is a history of the Dust Bowl that won the National Book Award. It is outstanding.